Education & Family

Shoesmith hits back over sacking

Sharon Shoesmith
Image caption Sharon Shoesmith was sacked in December 2008

Sharon Shoesmith has hit back over her sacking by Haringey Council after the death of Baby Peter.

She lost her job as head of children's services after damning reports into the death of Peter Connolly at the hands of his mother, her boyfriend and a lodger.

She told a Commons committee how sorry she was about the death and admitted there had been "errors of judgement".

But she asked why the police and health services had not also been made to take responsibility.

Ms Shoesmith was appearing in front of MPs on the House of Commons education committee who are looking at the issue of children's safety.


Peter died at the age of 17 months in August 2007 after suffering horrific abuse. He had been seen by health and social services professionals 60 times in the eight months before he died.

His mother, her partner and a lodger were all jailed for causing or allowing his death.

Sharon Shoesmith has claimed she was made a scapegoat for the death and that she was unlawfully sacked in December 2008, after a media outcry following the court case.

She told MPs: "There was never any doubt about how sorry I was and everyone in Haringey was about the murder of Peter Connolly".

But she said it would be "absurd" to construct a narrative which said you could decide that Peter had died because Haringey was weak, sack social workers and the director of children's services and think "all would be well".

"The whole sector is now motivated by fear of failure and not the conditions of success," she said.

Ms Shoesmith said she had never attributed blame, but that there had been no resignations from others in the police and the health service which had been involved with Peter Connolly and his family before his death.

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Media captionSharon Shoesmith: "I didn't have any personal dealing with the case"

She said a consultant had seen Baby Peter after he had been seen by health workers on 34 other occasions but had not had any reports from those meetings - only a report from a social worker.

Death threats

Asked if mistakes had been made, she said: "Yes, undoubtedly, there were errors of judgement. This is a very difficult issue for everyone in a professional role that works in all sorts of services".

But pressed as to whether she had personally made mistakes, Ms Shoesmith said she had never been directly involved in the case of Peter Connolly.

"I did not have any personal dealings in this case at all," she said.

"Haringey had 55,000 children, 600 of them in care. We had 250 children subjected to child protection plans and I would not have known the case."

Pressed again on whether she made mistakes or would have done anything differently, Ms Shoesmith said: "That's a heck of a question, given what I have experienced. I have dealt with death threats and brought myself back from the brink.

"I go back to August 3, 2007 when I heard the news about Peter's death. The cynical me and the cynical you would have been, 'jump then'. But I didn't because I was always very committed to Haringey and I still am and I do wish them well as they go forward.

"I could have gone but I don't get into the realms of regrets in all parts of life."

Ms Shoesmith was asked to give evidence to the committee because it is investigating the standard of child social work and wanted to know what lessons she could offer.

She told the MPs a successful inspection of a social work department did not guarantee there would not be deaths and that child protection should not be made a political issue as it had been following Peter's death.

The former head of children's services at Haringey is locked in a legal battle over her sacking by Haringey and the role of the then children's secretary Ed Balls.

She has been given leave to appeal against a High Court judgement which said she had been removed from her post fairly.

'Shocking statistics'

In her opening remarks to MPs, Ms Shoesmith said the statistics on child murders were shocking - and had stayed the same for more than 30 years.

The Baby Peter case had led to big changes in children's social services, she said.

"For children, the impact has been far-reaching. Since 2008 the number coming into care has increased 30%. The number we have subject to a child protection plan has doubled. Yet this wider net seems to have had little impact on the number of children who die."

She said in the year Peter had died - 2007 - a total of 54 other children in England had also died at the hands of their parents or other family members.

In the decade from 1999 to 2009, 539 children had died in this way, she said.

"These are shocking statistics and statistics that are not known. They are too abhorrent for us to consider," she said.

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